The first sport planes


Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

In the May 13, 1920, issue of the English magazine Flight, a survey of a new type of aircraft they called the “sporting aeroplane” was published. The article provided a list of these aircraft of 50 horsepower or under, along with drawings of each.

Though most of the airplanes were from England or France, some six American designs were covered: ACE, Bellanca CE, Dayton-Wright Messenger, Hild-Marshonet, Loening Kitten, and Martin Kitten. [Read more...]

The OX-5 era


Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

After the end of World War I, surplus warplanes were dumped on the market at a fraction of their original cost, leaving manufacturers with little demand for new aircraft. Without a doubt this availability of cheap aircraft hindered the development of new aircraft in the U.S., as surplus aircraft, many still in shipping crates, were sold for as little as a couple of hundred dollars.

In fact, the post-war market looked so good that Curtiss bought back more than 1,600 JN-4 Jennies and 4,608 OX-5 engines. The vast popularity of the war-surplus Jenny led to its being the second most registered aircraft design in the United States before 1940.

However, the corollary to the story is that the stocks of war surplus Curtiss OX-5 engines powered the growth in general aviation for a decade. [Read more...]

On the threshold of powered flight

Lilienthal, who precipitated modern aviation, flying one of his gliders in 1895.

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

During the closing years of the 19th century, there were important events that brought the development of aircraft to the edge of powered flight. It was a period of great expectations, full of such developments as the gasoline engine, the automobile, electric lights and the telephone. The experiments of this time in aeronautics by the likes of Lilienthal, Chanute, Maxim, and Langley were important in providing inspiration and laying the technical foundations that the Wright brothers and others would follow.

[Read more...]

A new age of business travel


Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

The period after the end of World War II saw a rapid growth in the use of corporate-owned aircraft for executive transportation. That need was fed mainly by conversions of small transports and high-speed wartime medium bombers, but in the early 1950s serious thought was given to the design and production of the “ideal” executive aircraft. [Read more...]

A novel approach

The Aeroplane Boys book series took off in 1909 and had at least eight titles published.

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Starting in 1908 and 1909, aviation began to have an impact on the public conscience and imagination, evidenced by its appearance in popular culture of the day, including music, books and films.

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An aerial adventure

Laurence Lombard, left, and Frederick Blodgett prepare to depart Portland, Oregon, for Seattle. In the background is the Stinson “On-to-Oregon” that Tex Rankin of Portland was using to try to set an endurance record.

A decade after the Army’s pioneering flight to Alaska, two adventurous young men embarked on a month-long, 12,000-mile journey to Alaska in a de Havilland Gipsy Moth named “Flit,” a small two-seat biplane with open cockpits and a 90-hp, four-cylinder engine. The pilots were on their summer vacation and wanted to see if they could fly out to Alaska, get in some bear hunting and return. [Read more...]

Commercial aviation tries its wings

Demand for the war surplus Jenny was so great that Curtiss bought back thousands of them from the government, refurbished and resold them.

The development of commercial air operations in the United States after the armistice that ended the First World War was a period of optimism founded on widespread public curiosity, thousands of newly trained pilots, and easy availability of surplus aircraft. Financing was provided based on the assumption that public interest would force the development of air transport without the development of new aircraft and without a national air policy. The initial growth period peaked in 1920, then diminished because of waning curiosity, use of obsolete war surplus equipment, lack of airways and airfields, as well as a lack of good business models.

Due to the lack of any federal system of registration, it is difficult to measure commercial operations in this period, but the Manufacturers Aircraft Association (MAA) made an annual attempt. It reported the number of FBOs went from a high of about 160 in 1920 to a reported 60 in 1924. The commercial fleet went from an estimated 1,000 aircraft in 1920 to a reported 217 in 1924.

Demand for the war surplus Jenny was so great that Curtiss bought back thousands of them from the government, refurbished and resold them.

[Read more...]

Flying on tandem wings


Among early design considerations were the layout, location and configuration of wings. Several early concepts included that of the tandem wing, including Langley’s first successful powered aircraft in 1896 (pictured, below). A tandem wing aircraft implies use of two full-sized wings mounted on each end of the fuselage. It might be considered a biplane with a great amount of “stagger” between the wings. The practical effect is to increase the stability of an aircraft. Early experimenters found that using a single or biplane wing configuration was unstable. Some tried to overcome this problem using two horizontally separated wings.

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The parasol era

Frank Hawks sitting in the famous “Texaco #5.”


In a period in American aviation history when the biplane configuration was dominate, there was a slight aberration when the parasol became popular.

From the start of the Depression until the mid-1930s, there was a strong spurt of interest that saw about 30 parasol designs certificated for production. With their wings placed above the fuselage, these planes were certainly distinctive compared to the popular biplanes of the time.

[Read more...]